TIDBITS FOR WINTER 2024
The Oklahoma State Election Board (OSEB)released its annual voter registration report showing 2,301,188 registered voters in Oklahoma. Oklahoma’s official voter registration statistics are counted every year on January 15. According to OSEB Secretary Paul Ziriax, the largest number of Oklahoma’s voters are Republicans, who make up 51.7% of registered voters. Democrats are the second-largest party with 28.4% of registered voters.
Democrats had long been the largest political party in Oklahoma, but were passed by Republicans in January 2015. While Republican registration continues to grow, Democrat registrations remain on a downward trend. Meanwhile, both the Libertarian Party (which gained recognition in 2016) and Independent voters continue to see steady growth. Libertarians now account for almost 1% of Oklahoma voters and Independents (those with no party affiliation) round out the total with 19% of registered voters. There are now 1,190,626 Republicans, 652,611 Democrats, 21,910 Libertarians, and 436,041 are registered as Independents.
Independents Can Vote in Democrat Primaries
State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax announced on December 18 that he had been notified by the Oklahoma Democratic Party that it will again allow Independents (those not registered in a political party) to vote in its primary elections during the 2024-2025 election years. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Republican Party notified the Secretary that it will keep its primaries closed to Independent voters. The Libertarian Party of Oklahoma did not formally send a notification; therefore, by default, the Libertarian Party primaries will remain closed as designated by state law. Oklahoma is a closed primary state which only allows the members of a political party to select their candidates for the General Election. However, every odd-numbered year between November 1 and November 30, all recognized political parties in Oklahoma must notify the Secretary of the State Election Board as to whether or not they will allow registered Independents to vote in their party’s primaries and runoff primaries during the next two election years. If a party chooses to open its primaries, the deadline is extended to December 15 for the other recognized parties to respond or change their response.
The State Election Board reminded voters that whether voting in person or by absentee ballot, Independent voters must request to receive a Democratic primary ballot. These cannot be automatically issued. Voters who have already requested absentee ballots for the 2024 election year can update their absentee ballot request online using the OK Voter Portal. State law prohibits party affiliation changes April 1 through August 31 of even-numbered years. Party affiliation changes submitted during the closed period will be processed on September 1, 2024. Changes can be made online through the OK Voter Portal.
Future Senate Democrat Leaders Named
On December 13 it was announced that Senate Democrats had selected Sen. Julie Kirt of Oklahoma City as the Democrat leader of the Oklahoma State Senate for the 60th Oklahoma Legislature that will convene in February 2025. She will succeed Senator Kay Floyd of Oklahoma City who will serve her last year as Minority Leader during the second regular session of the 59th Oklahoma Legislature that convenes February 5, 2024. Floyd cannot seek reelection next year due to term limits. Democrat Sen. Michael Brooks of Oklahoma City will take over in 2025 as Democrat Caucus Chair succeeding Sen. Kevin Matthews of Oklahoma City who is also term limited. Floyd and Matthews, who will continue to serve in their Senate leadership roles until they leave office following the November General Election.
Kirt has a bachelor’s degree from Macalester College in Minnesota and a master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma. She led statewide arts and culture nonprofit organizations for almost 20 years. Brooks, an Oklahoma City attorney, is the first Latino member elected to a leadership position in the Senate. He has a bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma State University, and a juris doctorate from the University of Oklahoma. The two new leaders, along with the current leadership, are among the “Top Liberals” in the Oklahoma Legislature based on their scores on the Oklahoma Conservative Index.
State Democrats at White House Gun Meeting
Four Oklahoma Democrat legislators attended the White House Legislative Convening on Gun Violence Prevention on December 13. The members attending were Rep. Forrest Bennett (D-OKC), Jo Anna Dossett (D-Tulsa), Rep. Jason Lowe (D-Oklahoma City), and Rep. Amanda Swope (D-Tulsa). “It has been refreshing to be around other state legislators who lie in reality, understand that the second amendment matters but so do victims of gun violence and that states have a role to play to protect our people,” Bennett said. “We can’t continue to ignore the multiple mass shootings or the connection between guns and domestic violence. We can’t keep burying our heads in the sand and pretending these problems will disappear,” said Rep. Swope. The lawmakers worked in small groups with legislators and policy experts nationwide to discuss potential policy solutions.
Vote for Biden Impeachment Inquiry
On December 13, all five members of Oklahoma’s U.S. House delegation (Rep. Kevin Hern - District 1, Rep. Josh Brecheen - District 2, Rep. Frank Lucas - District 3, Rep. Tom Cole - District 4, Rep. Stephanie Bice - District 5) voted for House Resolution 918 which formalizes the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. The House voted 221 to 212 along party lines. The vote formalizes the inquiry process, but is not a direct vote to impeach the President.
Congressman Cole, a member of the House leadership explained: “The vote taken by the House today formalizes the inquiry process and is not a vote on whether to impeach the president. This will provide the House with the strongest legal standing to pursue needed information and enforce subpoenas as the existing impeachment inquiry is continued.”
Ceiling Fan Manufacturer Protection Act
In December, Oklahoma Congressman Josh Brecheen introduced the Small Business Ceiling Fan Manufacturer Protection Act, which would combat a damaging proposed rule from the Department of Energy (DoE) that could put certain ceiling fan manufacturers out of business. “Biden’s Department of Energy should be focused on ensuring American energy independence, instead of pursuing a radical, green agenda that will crush small businesses,” said Congressman Brecheen. “This bill is needed to ensure that DoE cannot act any further on this proposed rule.” On June 22, 2023 the DoE announced a proposed rule that would amend energy conservation standards for ceiling fans. Specifically, this proposed rule would decrease the maximum energy consumption permissible for large diameter and belt-driven ceiling fans, thus raising costs by as much as $4.8 million. This increase in costs will inevitably be passed on to American families. It would require ceiling fan manufacturers to completely redesign their products to remain in compliance with this regulation. DoE predicts that for some small businesses, compliance with this rule would cost more than its yearly revenues.
Make Greenwood District a National Monument
Senator James Lankford is working with Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) to designate the Historic Greenwood District in North Tulsa as a national monument. It is the site of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre where white residents burned, bombed, and murdered the black residents of Greenwood. Before the Race Massacre, Greenwood was known as Black Wall Street because of the Tulsa neighborhood’s success. “The Historic Greenwood District/Black Wall Street area in North Tulsa deserves its place among our nation’s significant historic locations. I have worked with my friends in North Tulsa to secure designations on the National Registry of Historic Places and on the Civil Rights Trail. Now, we are one step closer to establishing a national monument,” said Lankford. “Even after the fateful events in 1921, North Tulsa remains a place of light and hope as the community continues to show their strength to overcome adversity and work toward reconciliation, which is something our nation should never forget. I am grateful for the tireless efforts of so many in North Tulsa and in our state to make sure our children today and the generations yet unborn remember those lost, understand the stain of racism, and learn the powerful story of rebuilding and resilience.”
Title X Abortion Overreach
On November 20, Attorney General Gentner Drummond announced that he had filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) after that federal agency suspended a family planning grant that the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) has received for more than 40 years. The Biden Administration took millions in Title X grant money from Oklahoma and Tennessee, and gave it instead to pro-abortion groups like Planned Parenthood. HHS nixed several million dollars of Oklahoma’s Title X funding solely because Oklahoma declines to refer women for abortion.
Importantly, federal law stipulates that Title X funds cannot be “used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning.” This point is emphasized in the lawsuit. “Title X in no way requires abortion referrals for a State’s continued participation,” the filing states. “Rather, sans authority, HHS seeks to punish Oklahoma for the policies adopted by Oklahoma’s elected representatives to protect unborn life. HHS is interfering with rights reserved to the people and their elected representatives despite a clear federal mandate that Title X funds should not be used in programs where abortion is offered as a method of family planning.” The litigation seeks reinstatement of Oklahoma’s Title X Family Planning grant. OSDH uses Title X funds for a range of services such as cancer screening, breast exams, depression screening and pregnancy prevention.
AG Opinion on State Abortion Laws
On November 21, Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond issued a formal opinion that Oklahoma law does not allow pregnant women to be punished for seeking, performing or self-inducing an abortion to intentionally terminate their pregnancy. The opinion was requested by four state senators and two state representatives. “Oklahoma law does not allow the punishment of pregnant women attempting an abortion,” the opinion states. “The Legislature has repeatedly made this clear and just last year, repealed the one law that would have expressly allowed such a prosecution.” But, the opinion notes that while Oklahoma law does not allow for pregnant women to be prosecuted, abortion is legally prohibited throughout pregnancy except to save the life of the mother.
In addition to the official opinion, Drummond issued updated guidance to Oklahoma law enforcement agencies and district attorneys regarding the state’s abortion laws. The original guidance was issued by former Attorney General John O’Connor in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. Drummond’s updated guidance emphasizes that criminal prosecution should be pursued only for those who intentionally perform or assist with an elective or on-demand abortion in Oklahoma. The guidance makes clear that Oklahoma law authorizes abortion only to save the life of the mother, and protects the judgment of medical professionals in making such a determination. “Medical doctors, in particular, should be given substantial leeway to treat pregnant women experiencing life-threatening or emergency physical conditions, using their reasoned medical judgment, so long as they are not unnecessarily terminating the life of the unborn child or intentionally abusing their position to facilitate elective abortions,”
Drummond Testifies to U.S. House Committee
On January 10, Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond testified before the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee that the failure of the Biden Administration to secure the nation’s southwest border is seriously endangering public safety in Oklahoma. The Capitol Hill hearing was part of that committee’s impeachment proceedings against Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Drummond noted that the flood of illegal immigrants into the U.S. under Mayorkas has allowed criminal enterprises, primarily populated by Mexican and Chinese nationals, to jeopardize public safety through drug trafficking and other crimes. He recounted the details of a November 2022 quadruple homicide at an illegal marijuana farm in Kingfisher County where a Chinese national allegedly killed four people.
“Throughout Oklahoma, law enforcement comes into daily contact with foreign nationals who entered our country illegally or who remain here illegally - or both. This is all too common in Oklahoma’s marijuana grow operations,” said Drummond. He told the committee that criminal illegal immigrants have heavily infiltrated Oklahoma’s legal medical marijuana industry to manufacture and distribute black-market marijuana. Drummond noted that these criminal organizations also produce and distribute fentanyl and engage in sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Drummond was one of three state attorneys general who testified at the hearing.
Drummond Commends New York Stock Exchange
On January 18, Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond commended the New York Stock Exchange for listening to him and his fellow attorneys general by withdrawing a proposed rule change that would have allowed the listing of “Natural Asset Companies” (NACs) on the exchange. NACs are a novel corporate structure designed to take land off the market to prohibit productive economic uses, which would have negative effects on domestic oil and gas exploration and production. Drummond had signed on to a January 9 public comment letter spearheaded by attorneys general in Utah and Kansas which was joined by 24 other states.
“The strict requirements for NACs would have significantly halted the development of natural resources, particularly energy exploration,” Drummond said. “Such a move would have had severe economic consequences for Oklahoma. I applaud the NYSE for listening to the counsel of this coalition of attorneys general and withdrawing this ill-advised and illegal proposed rule change.” NACs are a new, untested corporate structure created to lease so-called “ecological performance rights” from landowners, including the federal government. NACs manage “natural assets” in lieu of generating revenue. Any “revenue-generating operations” an NAC engages in must be both “sustainable” and consistent with “its primary purpose” of protecting nature.
Oklahoma Energy Resources Board
On December 21, the Oklahoma Energy Producers Alliance (OEPA) submitted an Open Records request to the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board (OERB) seeking information on the agency’s budget processes and how the agency conducts its various programs under a series of sole-source contracts. “Since its creation by the Oklahoma Legislature in 1992-93, the OERB has facilitated programs to educate the general public about the significant role the oil and natural gas industry plays in the state’s economy, workforce and tax base,” Zack Taylor, Seminole oilman and OEPA board member, explained. “The OERB has done some credible work in its 30-year existence,” Taylor continued. “However, today the board of the OERB is no longer representative of the broad base of producers and royalty owners who fund the work of the OERB, and because of this the decisions of the board are no longer transparent to much of the state’s industry. For that reason, we are filing this Open Records request just to get the facts.”
The OERB was created by the Legislature 30 years ago with the support of the oil and gas industry is up for sunset review. Since the early 1990s, the OERB has restored over 17,000 orphaned well sites and educated a half million students about energy in Oklahoma, Taylor explained. “We at the OEPA support this agency – past, present and future – and want to see the OERB continue for the benefit of our industry and for future generations of Oklahomans.”
Michelin Ending Tire Production in Ardmore
On October 26, Michelin North America announced that it cease tire production in Ardmore, Oklahoma by the end of 2025. However, rubber mixing operations will continue at the Oklahoma site. About 1,400 jobs will be lost. Michelin said updating the plant, which opened in 1970, was not financially viable. Tire production will gradually shift to its other passenger-tire plants in North America. The company did make investments recent years in an attempt to make the tire production facility competitive with its other sites. Gov. Kevin Stitt said, “Events like this illustrate why it’s important to be the most business friendly state. Business is constantly changing, but Ardmore is great location with a great workforce, and I have no doubt we will attract more businesses.” Some employees may choose to relocate to other company locations, others will retire, and many will stay and seek new employment in the area.
Chesapeake Energy and Southwestern Energy Merger
In January, Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy Corporation and Texas-based Southwestern Energy Company officially reached a deal to merge. The $7.4 billion acquisition of Southwestern Energy will create the largest natural gas producer in the United States. The combined company will operate under a new name after the deal is closed. Nick Dell’Osso, the current President and CEO of Chesapeake, will retain that role with the combined company, which will continue to be headquartered in Oklahoma City. The company will also maintain its offices in the Houston area. The combined corporate entity will have an estimated value of approximately $24 billion.
Stitt Proposes Sports Betting
On November 2, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced his plan to make sports betting a reality in Oklahoma. The Governor’s plan, which would allow Oklahomans to place in-person bets at gaming sites operated by federally recognized tribes, would protect tribal investments in brick-and-mortar facilities. The plan would also allow Oklahomans to place bets on their mobile devices on a sportsbook licensed by the state. Additionally, the plan protects Oklahoma’s student-athletes by prohibiting prop betting and bets on individual student-athlete performance.
“I promised Oklahomans if we pursued sports betting, we would do it right – and this plan does just that,” said Governor Stitt. “Thirty-five states have already legalized sports betting, and it’ll be a great revenue stream for the state. Tribes will be able to add it onto their existing infrastructure, and Oklahomans can access it right from their phone.” The plan would prohibit wagers on the individual performance of student-athletes, coaches, referees, player injuries, and prop bets at the college level. The Governor is awaiting input from the NCAA and athletic conferences that impact Oklahoma to see how they choose to regulate the industry.
Mobile wagering would be conducted by organizations licensed by the State of Oklahoma, taxed at a 20% rate, and bets may be accepted from anywhere in the state. An initial licensing fee for participating organizations of $500,000 will be required, in addition to a $100,000 annual fee.
Task Force on McGirt Decision
On December 22, Governor Stitt signed Executive Order 2023-32, creating the One Oklahoma Task Force to provide the Governor, Legislature, Tribal leaders, and the congressional delegation with legislative and regulatory recommendations as we continue to feel the impacts of the McGirt decision. “The primary function of government is to protect public safety, and the McGirt decision has created confusion and tension among those that work to serve that function,” said Governor Stitt. “By gathering stakeholders from every corner of our state, we can address the real jurisdictional challenges left by McGirt and usher in lasting change. The State of Oklahoma, Tribal governments, and our citizens deserve clarity.”
The One Oklahoma Task Force will develop and submit a report that contains: Legislative and regulatory recommendations to address the effects of the McGirt decision; Uniform cross-deputization and jail agreements; and other recommendations relevant to the speedy resolution of the broken system created by the McGirt decision.
Tribal Compact Agreements
In January, Gov. Kevin Stitt and the leader of the Chickasaw Nation, Gov. Bill Anoatubby, signed motor vehicle tag and tobacco compacts. Stitt signed the agreements on January 11, and Anoatubby signed the following day. The new tobacco terms improve upon and implement what the Chickasaw Nation proposed last summer for avoiding a substantive impasse over jurisdictional disputes in prior talks. The vehicle license tag compact terms implement a simple update and renewal of existing terms. Oklahoma will continue to make Chickasaw plates and collect driver information for each tag, ensuring accessibility for law enforcement and public safety, and for the collection of turnpike tolls.
The new Chickasaw tobacco compact includes changes requested by both the Stitt and the Anoatubby. At Governor Stitt’s request, the “compact jurisdiction” was changed from referencing the Chickasaw Nation’s “Indian Country” to instead only apply to allotment lands and the Chickasaw land held in trust by the federal government. This narrows the jurisdiction from the disputed coverage that might be inferred from the McGirt decision. “We built on areas of agreement without waiving or limiting the rights of either party or requiring either party to yield on matters where there may still be legal dispute,” stated Governor Anoatubby.
Prior to the finalization of the compacts with the Chickasaw Nation, a tobacco compact with the Apache Tribe was signed on January 2. The tobacco compacts for the two tribes shared like provisions. Governor Stitt commented on the execution of the agreements with the two tribal governments. “While I’m glad we could come to an agreement on these compacts, I still believe there is work to be done to ensure we are not further eroding Oklahoma’s revenue base in order to continue to provide public services to people across the state,” Governor Stitt added. “I continue to welcome other federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma to engage with my office in the compacting process.”
Zumwalt Named Secretary of Tourism
On January 16, Gov. Kevin Stitt named Shelley Zumwalt as Oklahoma Secretary of Tourism. Zumwalt has held a variety of positions in state government spanning more than a decade. She began her career at the state as an entry-level budget analyst in the Office of State Finance, overseeing the Health and Human Services cabinet. During the Fallin Administration, Zumwalt served as Public Affairs Director, Chief of Communications and Strategic Engagement for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, and in multiple roles at the Office of Management and Enterprise Services. She then served as executive director of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. Governor Stitt tapped Zumwalt as executive director of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department in 2022 after the scandal concerning restaurant management at state parks. Zumwalt succeeds Lt. Governor Matt Pinnell as Secretary of Tourism. Pinnell was named Secretary of Workforce Development in July 2023. Zumwalt will concurrently serve as Executive Director of the of the tourism agency and Secretary of Tourism.
New Secretary of Education
On January 24, Gov. Kevin Stitt named education advocate Nellie Tayloe Sanders to serve as Secretary of Education. Since 2013, Sanders has worked at the Center of Family Love, a nonprofit serving neurodivergent individuals and individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She will fill the a spot in Stitt’s Cabinet that has been vacant since July when Katherine Curry resigned after only three months on the job. The appointment requires confirmation by the Oklahoma Senate.
Sanders has been a member of the state Virtual Charter School Board since early 2023. During her time on the board she voted to approve the application of the St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Charter School. She also voted to hire the Alliance Defending Freedom – a conservative legal group defending individuals and organizations against religious discrimination – to represent the board in matters relating to the St. Isidore school. She resigned from her seat on the board just previous to her appointment, but as Education Secretary she will hold a non-voting seat on the board.
As a dyslexic thinker and advocate, Sanders has first-hand experience navigating the school system as a dyslexic child and later as a parent. She supports education freedom and individualized learning environments including public, charter, and private schools. She began her career at Conde Nast Publications and holds a degree from Salve Regina University and resides in Kingfisher, Oklahoma, with her husband (a former member of the Oklahoma House of Representative) and their two sons.
After School Aviation Program
In January, Oklahoma Department of Aerospace and Aeronautics Executive Director, Grayson Ardies, and Sen. Adam Pugh (R-Edmond), the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, announced a partnership with the Bessie Coleman Aviation All-Stars Program. They were joined in the announcement by Gigi Coleman Brooms, President of the Chicago-based aviation education 501 (c)3 endeavor. At its December 2023 meeting, the Commission approved the partnership to implement an after-school aviation program for 6th and 7th-grade students enrolled in the Weatherford Public Schools, Pryor Public Schools, and Springdale Elementary of the Tulsa Public Schools. Students enrolled in the aeronautical program will learn about aerospace careers and will participate in hands-on aviation projects that have been designed to create interest in aerospace and aeronautics while celebrating the heritage of Bessie Coleman.
During the first week of the program, students are introduced digitally to Gigi Coleman, Bessie Coleman’s great-niece, an actor-historian of the Bessie Coleman aviation story. Gigi reenacts her great aunt’s early life, telling the story of how she became America’s first black, female pilot in 1921. During the following weeks, students will meet pilot professionals, build airplanes, interact with military aviation professionals, and learn about commercial flight, space travel, advanced air mobility, and drone operations. The curriculum is designed to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), teach the theory of flight (aeronautics) and introduce various careers, pioneers and inventors in aviation. April 30, 2026, marks the 100th anniversary of Bessie Coleman’s death and in keeping her legacy alive, their goal is to expand aviation programs throughout the United States, reaching as many students as possible.
Death of Former Rep. Lundy Kiger
Former state Rep. Lundy Kiger (R-Poteau) passed away on November 13 at the age of 69 following an accident. Kiger was elected in 2018 from District 3 in far southeastern Oklahoma and served just one term, after defeating the conservative incumbent Rep. Rick West (R-Heavener) in the Republican primary election. Rep. West defeated Kiger in the 2020 primary and currently holds the seat. During his two years in the House he had a 70 percent cumulative average conservative rating on the Oklahoma Conservative Index. Kiger had a long career in public education along with the energy and aggregate sectors in LeFlore County, and for many years was a familiar face at the Capitol serving as government relations director for AES Shady Point in the Poteau/Panama area.
Death of Former Rep. Porter Davis
Former state Rep. Porter Davis (R-Oklahoma City) passed away November 14 at his home in Oklahoma City following a long-term illness which plagued him for years. He was 76. Davis was active in the formation of the Libertarian Party of Oklahoma and its early attempts to get on the ballot. In 1976 he ran as an Independent candidate for a seat in the Oklahoma Legislature and received 36% of the vote. He would later be elected as a Republican in 1982 in House District 85 and served a single term. During his two years in the Oklahoma House he had a 77 percent cumulative average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index. He continued to be active in organizing the grassroots of the Republican Party in later years, earning him the title “Mr. Grassroots.”
Davis was also a well-known local businessman, serving as a Vice-President of the family institutional food distribution business, Wm. E. Davis and Sons, and headed the company’s Chef’s Market Division. In the 1990s he was owner/operator of smooth jazz radio station, KTNT in Oklahoma City.